Belgium- Increases Focus on Foreign Integration Efforts

The Belgian parliament has approved a new Act, which imposes integration efforts on some foreigners who want to reside in Belgium for more than 3 months. The new Act has not yet been published in the Belgian Official Journal.

There are two aspects: the signing of the “newcomers statement” at the time of the initial residence application, and a future “audit” of integration efforts:

  • The applicant for long term (more than 3 months) residence will have to sign a “newcomers statement”, in which he/she acknowledges to understand the fundamental values of society, and to act in accordance with (in French: “agir en conformité avec”/in Dutch: “handelen naar”) these values;
  • Furthermore, the applicant will be informed that he/she will have to submit proof of his/her integration efforts in the future.

The new rules will apply to third country (non-EU/EEA) labour migrants, as well as their family members who apply for residence on the basis of family reunification.

Several foreigners will be exempt, such as:

  • Recognized refugees or beneficiaries of subsidiary protection;
  • EU (European Union)/EEA (European Economic Area = EU + Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway) citizens and their family members;
  • Long-term residents (Council Directive 2003/109/EC of November 25, 2003);
  • Students;
  • Victims of human trafficking;
  • Beneficiaries of the agreement creating an association between the European Economic Community and Turkey; and
  • Foreigners who are seriously ill.

The obligations and its consequences in the event of non-compliance can be summarized as follows:

  • A refusal to sign the “newcomers statement” will result in an inadmissible residence application;
  • A foreigner who holds a residence permit for limited term, such as a labour migrant whose duration of work permit + 1 or 3 month(s), must prove his/her willingness to integrate. This proof must be submitted within the first limited residence term (e.g. for labour migrant = duration of work permit + 1 or 3 month(s)); failure to do so could be a ground for refusal to renew the residence permit;
  • Furthermore, the Minister for Asylum and Migration or the Foreigners’ Office (federal department in charge of immigration) can terminate the right to reside if the authorities find that the foreigner has not made a “reasonable effort” to integrate. The authorities can ask the foreigner to submit information/evidence. The right to reside can be terminated during 4 years following the end of the 1st year after the issuance of the limited or unlimited authorization to reside, or following the end of the 1st year after the authorization to reside in Belgium.

The authorities will assess the integration efforts by taking into account the following criteria, listed in the new Act:

  • Attend an integration course, organized by the authority competent for the foreigner’s main residence;
  • Work in Belgium as employee, civil servant, or self-employed;
  • Degree, study certificate or evidence of enrolment in a recognized or subsidized educational establishment;
  • Attend a vocational training, recognized by a competent authority;
  • Knowledge of the official language of the place, where the foreigner is registered;
  • No criminal record; and
  • Active participation in community life.

If the authorities consider a decision to terminate the right to reside, they must take into account:

  • The nature and the strength of the family ties of the foreigner;
  • The duration of residence in Belgium; and
  • The existence of family ties or cultural/social connections with the country of origin.

The new Act has not yet taken effect.  The text of the “newcomers statement” has not yet been confirmed.  The Belgian federal authorities will have to agree on a text with the French-speaking, Flemish and German-speaking communities. Communities are regional authorities, competent for integration.  The integration obligation will become relevant for all residence applications, filed after the date of taking effect of the new Act.